Quick Appendix to The Vinyl Pause FAQ

  • Thank you!

I’m very thankful to everyone I know and don’t know for sharing the Vinyl Pause of 2020 FAQ I wrote in a fit of grief and frustration a week or so ago. (If you’re reading this now and have no idea what I’m talking about, I recommend reading the above link first.) I am positively overwhelmed with the reaction to it.

I don’t write much online because I have so many talented journalists and critics as friends who can convey my thoughts about artists or musical topics far better than I could. So writing this piece was definitely out of my element.

  • Some errata to note

There are some items I got wrong in the FAQ that I do want to correct here, and will also embed in the FAQ:

  1. I mentioned that some record labels could afford an overhead of lacquers for mastering. While this is true, this is clearly more true of bigger pressing plants, who directly depend on mastering discs manufacturers such as Apollo or MDC Japan. I neglected to mention that overhead on the part of many pressing plants, so that was an item that I should have mentioned.
  2. Someone had commented that vinyl did not start around the 1880s, and that commenter is correct. The phonograph record industry started taking shape around the 1880s, and the material to make those first discs was shellac. Polyvinyl chloride — vinyl, in short — didn’t start making a presence in the industry until the 1940s. I equated vinyl with phonograph records in my mind, hence that mistake.
  • Post-Apollo-Fire thoughts and musings

It has been only days since the Apollo fire. A week feels like an eternity in the press, but that is just a blip of time for those who worked at or ran Apollo Masters. I don’t expect to hear any official word about Apollo for quite some time, and that’s fair. Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times went out to the disaster site of the fire, and reported this disheartening scene on Twitter. Of course, many articles musing about the near future of vinyl were written in the past week. I’ll admit that I had job related priorities in this interim, so I haven’t followed as many sites and papers writing about this topic as I wished.

However, I did notice two distinct camps who wrote about the fire and what could come next. The first camp was mostly informal and personal discussions on social media. I won’t be reporting on those discussions for very obvious reasons. All I will say from this camp is that far more people had the same concern about the tiny lacquer bottleneck as I did.

The second camp of articles came from music trade publications and businesses, as expected. Two articles each by Billboard and Discogs stuck out in my mind. (If you see ad blockers on the Billboard link, apologies. There’s nothing I can do about it.) Both articles were well written, and rightfully pointed out that “Vinylgeddon” is an exaggerated term for what’s coming in the immediate future. While I was not into the “C’mon guys, everything will be OK” tone of either piece, it was a fair tone, as some people had a far more fatalistic attitude about the industry after the first wave of “Vinylgeddon” pieces.

I was disappointed that — Ben Blackwell of Third Man Records aside — the interview subjects chosen by the writers all worked at major labels. That’s not surprising given that both sites’ primary focuses are on pop music and legacy artists, respectively. (And while it’s not surprising that these interviewees didn’t want to disclose their names — no business wants their name associated with industry fragility — it was odd to read. What would a major label employee risk by telling the truth about an event that effects everyone in the industry anyway?)

Billboard and especially Discogs should have given some space to interviewing other independent labels and artists outside Third Man, because the Apollo fire could be a complete disaster to these artists and labels. Remember when I mentioned grief and frustration above? My life is surrounded by the independent music industry, and this community in every city is whom I had in mind after hearing about the fire.

Moreover, during the 90s and early 2000s in the U.S., when major labels had abandoned vinyl, U.S. independent labels had mostly kept the U.S. pressing industry alive, or at least prevented it from dying. So to have another threat to the vinyl industry be reported in a way that only gives major labels a podium feels like a betrayal once again. There likely wouldn’t have been a vinyl revival in the U.S. in the first place had it not been for the independent music industry’s support during the 90s.

  • That’s it for now

I’ll be posting here again once a plan or initial zeitgeist to address the Vinyl Pause starts becoming solid.

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